Zack Wheeler is kind of, sort of having a good season. He's made nine starts, given up four or more runs in four of them, while allowing three or fewer during the other five.
Wheeler, 28, will be a free agent after this season, during which he's looked like a more advanced version of himself at times, but also resembles the pitcher he had been in the past.
For instance, Wheeler historically landed around 95 mph with his fastball. This season, though, his four-seam fastball is a couple of ticks quicker. Among starting pitchers, Wheeler's four-seamer has the second-highest average velocity in the game, trailing only Noah Syndergaard's.
Wheeler is also using his four-seamer more, though it's difficult to know if that's because it's working so well for him, or if it's working because he's throwing it more. In either case, people in baseball are noticing the difference.
Like Syndergaard has done so well in the past, Wheeler is now seeing his fastball running in and out of the strike zone when facing right-handed batters, but also out and back in when facing lefties. He's also been throwing it with two different arm slots, similar to the look and delivery of his two-seamer, which could be the true secret to the success of both pitches.
The thing is, when the pitch is not slipping as intended like it did Thursday, he gets hit hard, or worse, begins walking batters. This is the Wheeler we often watched prior to 2018.
As a result, there's an argument to be made that the Mets should sign him to an extension before he hits the open market. However, it can also be argued that he should be dealt to another team if the Mets fall far enough out of contention and become sellers at the trade deadline.
The Mets could also do nothing, ride out 2019 with him in hopes of getting back in a playoff race, and compete with other interested teams if they want to bring him back as a free agent.
"It's everybody's number one goal to make it to free agency, that's where you really make your money and sort of set your career," Wheeler told SNY earlier this month when asked about signing a contract extension instead of becoming a free agent.
Though he loves playing for the Mets and in front of their fans, Wheeler continued to say that the Mets would have to offer him a deal at or better than what he and his agent believe is waiting for him on the open market.
As of now, Wheeler's top competition this winter will be Gerrit Cole, Madison Bumgarner, and Rick Porcello.
Cole has pitched like a mid- to front-end starter since 2013, when he first joined a big-league rotation. In that time, he's never made fewer than 19 starts in a season. He's made at least 30 starts three times, had the best season of his career in 2018, and is on pace to top that in 2019.
As a result, the buzz in baseball this past spring had the Astros wanting to get an extension done to keep Cole in Houston. However, understandably, he is said to want a seven-year deal or, at the very least, something similar to the six-year contract signed by Patrick Corbin and the Nationals this past winter.
Bumgarner may be just 30 years old, but it feels like he's much, much older. He's also a bit of an enigma because, for all of his success, he's suffered just as much hardship and several injuries. It's hard to see how he and the Giants resist continuing their marriage, so Bumgarner can eventually make good on his legacy and retire in San Francisco.
As a free agent, I think he'll see multiple three- and four-year offers, but a lot of that will be predicated on how he performs this season and, more importantly, if he spends too much time on the Injured List.
I think a lot of what applies to Bumgarner applies to Porcello as well.
Wheeler, it seems, will fall some place in the middle of the aforementioned free agents. This is probably a great spot for him to be in, and one of the main reasons I expect he'd prefer to hit the open market instead of signing an extension with the Mets. To stop him, the Mets will need to overpay, and it's hard to see them doing that given Wheeler's history with injury and up and down success.
"Cole will get the biggest deal, but Wheeler will have a lot of teams interested in him because of what he's showing, in terms of growth, so far this season," an NL player development contact told me. "However, anyone looking at his numbers will tell you he's been better than his top-line stats and he still gets a good number of ground balls."
It's also worth noting he has a rather lofty batting average on balls in play, suggesting he's also been a tad unlucky on pitches that have been hit against him.
The feel I get from talking to MLB insiders is that, if he can remain healthy and improve on what he did in 2018, Wheeler will be just in asking for a five-year deal worth at least $15-20 million each season. But that will likely depend on what is given to Cole.
That said, if Wheeler spends extensive time on the IL, or worse, remains healthy and struggles, he can expect to make a lot less money and for fewer seasons.
This variance is partly why I can't find anyone to agree on his potential trade value this summer.
In conversations with four people directly aware of these sort of things, two said he'd net at least one top-10 prospect from the organization acquiring him (and at least one, maybe two additional young players) in the deal. The other two, though, felt not as many teams in recent seasons will be hot to add a starting pitcher this summer.
However, they agreed that if, say, Mike Minor hits a bad run, or the Giants decide to ride out 2019 with Bumgarner, or the Indians keep playing well and hold on to Trevor Bauer, Wheeler could find himself the best available trade candidate, in which case he'll being a sizable return.
In the end, though, whether the Mets keep Wheeler through July will almost 100 percent depend on where they sit in the standings. Because, if they're in contention, Wheeler is going nowhere.
In either case, he's clearly going to be a free agent, at least based on his words, as well as the lack of reported action between him and the Mets for a contract extension.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!